The Western Socialist
Vol. 34 - No. 257
No. 3, 1967
"Hey! What do you think of that?" This explosive interrogation was shot at me recently and, somewhat startled, I turned to investigate.
"That" turned out to be an item in an interview recently featured in a current magazine which stated that, when interviewed on his 80th birthday by NBC, Bertrand Russell, famed philosopher and mathematician, said:
"Marx pretended that he wanted the happiness of the proletariat. What he really wanted was the unhappiness of the bourgeoisie and it was because of...that hate element that his philosophy produced disaster."
What I thought of it was expressed somewhat as follows: With a half century plus of more than a nodding acquaintance with the works of Marx I have become a trifle irritated with the chicanery, flip observations, and, betimes, apparently profound disquisitions of those who have set themselves the task of reducing Marx to absurdity. From Schaffle to Schumpeter, some are glib, some assume profundity and some are out and out or completely untrue. And in this last category I would place the nonagenerian, Russell.
One might ask Russell where in the reams and reams of matter produced by Marx he ever showed signs of pretense? Where did Marx "pretend" that he wanted the happiness of the proletariat? Where, in fact, did he "pretend" at all?
Marx does admit, in his greatest literary work "Capital," "I paint the capitalist and landlord in no sense "coleur de rose," and goes on to point out that individuals (in his enquiry) "are dealt with only insofar as they are the personifications of economic categories..." There were critics in abundance who were Marx's contemporaries. None of them, however, accused him of "pretense."
Of his method, Marx himself says that it "has been little understood... as shown by the various conceptions, contradictory one to another, that have been formed of it," and further deals with some of his critics of that time. He answers one of them (Russian) by extracting from that critic's own article these salient points:
(1) "...one thing which is of moment to Marx is to find the law of the phenomena with whose investigation he is concerned. . . (Emphasis, and those following, mine. W.P.)
(2) "...Of still greater moment to him is the law of their variation, of their development, i.e., of their transition from one form into another."
And after giving a fairly correct view of Marx's method the critic sums up thus:
"Whilst Marx set himself the task of... explaining... the economic system established by the sway of capital he is only formulating, in a strictly scientific manner, the aim that every accurate investigation into economic life must have..."
Marx looked into the societies of the past and discovered that all recorded history in its various social epochs could be set down as the history of class struggles. And in general terms describes them: "free man and slave;" "feudal lord and serf" and (what we have now) "capitalist and worker."
As each order disintegrated and passed away, a new order (more appropriate to social needs and concepts) arose until it too, carrying within itself the seeds of its own destruction, fell to new rising, revolutionary forces only to develop its own adversaries. In these historic clashes, the new rising class gained mastery by making use of the peasant and workers (that unhappy proletariat) to achieve its victory only to discard this dynamic (but despised) element after it had made use of it.
A case in point is the peasant revolt after this class had been the spearhead in the bourgeois revolution known as the Lutheran Reformation.
Now as to this "proletariat" that Marx "pretended" he wanted to make happy. Look throughout his numerous published works and one finds that with his view of historical development Marx discovered a "class" in this current (capitalist) social order, a class exploited and oppressed, which is not only a vast majority but has the motivation and interest to do away with the set of relationships existing in modern society. All that is missing is understanding and will. And this, the education of the working class, is the function of a socialist party.
In contradistinction to previous social classes this class has no social body beneath it to use as its battering ram and then discard. In short, it is the last slave class in history. This is the modern "proletariat" which Marx (according to Russell) "pretended" he wanted to make happy.
What Marx did was to analyze this system, urge the workers to "so change extant conditions but also change yourselves and render yourselves fit for political dominion." This was his "pretense?" To make them happy? So? This was Marx the scientist pointing towards a new social order where the proletariat indeed might be happy but would certainly disappear.